Santa Cruz author Nancy Abrams seeks the most real of all possible gods in her latest book
Like the cosmos that fascinates her, Nancy Abrams is unfathomably diverse. Schooled in history and the philosophy of science, she’s an author, philosopher, teacher, lawyer, musician, and international mediator whose co-creation of a technique called “scientific mediation” may or may not have taken down the Swedish government. She has co-authored two previous books—“The View from the Center of the Universe” and “The New Universe and the Human Future”—with her husband, renowned UCSC physics and astrophysics professor Joel Primack, and co-taught a celebrated class at UCSC called Cosmology and Culture, which explores no less than life, the universe, and everything. For her next act, she’s taking on a little entity we like to call “God.”
“A God That Could be Real” is Abrams’ latest book, and it challenges us to rethink our notions about what a higher power might look like if it were to be consistent with what we actually know about human nature, our planet, and the universe. Can such a God exist? She answers with a resounding yes, backing it up with thoughtful reasoning bound to inspire and provoke, pushing us to seek out the cosmic threads that unite us, regardless of religious or agnostic convictions.
We recently met for coffee at Lulu Carpenter’s, and talked about the very big picture.
How does history come into play in thinking about a new definition for God?
NANCY ABRAMS: Religions penalize people who differ from their view of God without consciousness that their view is one frame in a multi-thousand-year movie. The concept of God is always evolving; we just need to do it consciously, using our best knowledge to reach the next step in our understanding. That’s what I’m trying to do.
What prompted you to take on something so complex and controversial?
I think of it as thrilling. I never thought I’d be writing about this. I’ve been an atheist my whole life, but I got into a 12-step program, and it involves the search for a higher power of your own definition. It was upsetting to me that I was going to be incapable of working the program unless I made an honest effort to find an understanding of God for myself. It’s the search that helps you recover, and recovery goes deep. It doesn’t come cheap.
How did you form your own idea of God?
It had never occurred to me that God was real, and the God that many people talk about isn’t real, but the universe is real, and in understanding that, we can begin to understand God. People who say there can’t be a God in a Newtonian universe are right, but once you realize that you’re living in a universe that doesn’t fit our preconceptions, it opens up possibilities. Galileo was right, but he wasn’t complete.
How do you respond to skeptics who reject any discussion of God?
People should define themselves by what they stand for, not what they stand against. The 12-step program asks you to redefine who you are and what you could be. That’s what I’m asking people to do with God. You don’t have to buy into irrational paradigms or stop where you are, but if the search for truth is genuine, you have to stay engaged. You can’t coast.
You have personal reasons for thinking of God in this different way. What are the larger benefits?
It could change the world. We’re facing huge global problems, and no one knows how to solve them. We have a fragmented scientific endeavor, our religions and ideologies are fighting each other, and we need something that can pull the world together. One thing that’s equally true for all of us is science. Some may deny it, but they live as if they believe it—taking medicine, phoning friends, using the Internet—and this incoherence is a disaster. If we can open our minds to science, then we have to open our minds to things that go against our intuition and beyond our experience. That’s the path to common ground, and we only need a little. A little could make all the difference.
Nancy Abrams will discuss ‘A God That Could Be Real’ at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24 at Bookshop Santa Cruz; Free.